Why should we develop oil shale? Or, more precisely, what are the best arguments for scraping tens of thousands of acres of public land and using billions of gallons of scarce water and uncounted gigawatts of electricity to bake oil from rocks?
Jeremy Boak, of the Colorado School of Mines, has two answers. Both are wrong.
One of the biggest changes in natural gas drilling in the last decade has been the use of hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") to free gas from captured rock. The practice involves pumping huge amounts of water and a chemical cocktail downhole into rock sometimes two miles deep.
On November 5, 2009, something happened in Colorado that hasn't happened in a long, long time: the U.S. Forest Service rejected a proposal to turn a natural area into ski runs and a magnet for private land development. The natural area is Snodgrass Mountain, which includes inventoried roadless lands, beautiful aspen stands, raptor habitat, and open space.
Greed is usually the reason we see so many companies foul up our lands, air and water. But in Colorado, where a coal mining company is refusing to make money off the gas it is releasing, a little greed could actually help the environment.
For years, coal companies in Colorado's North Fork Valley have been spewing millions of cubic feet of methane into the atmosphere every day from their underground coal mines. They have to get rid of the methane because otherwise it's a safety hazard.
Last year, the oil and gas industry and its supporters were spending tens of thousands of dollars in Colorado to attack some modest proposals to protect the state's property owners and public health from the natural gas boom that was consuming the western part of the state.
We like to think of our national parks as places that are protected for generations, where outside the visitor center and a few heavily used trails, the vistas, the streams and the wildlife are there now as they have been and ever will be. But some of the West's most iconic parklands—Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion, Death Valley, Glen Canyon, Yosemite—have been under assault in recent years.
For the past month, the klieg lights have been squarely focused on attempts inside the Beltway to cobble together compromise legislation to address global climate change (AKA the Waxman-Markey bill), and President Obama's commitment at the G-8 summit to keep the planet from heating up more than two degrees celsius.
Meanwhile, out here in the West, it's CO2-emitting business as usual, with the federal Bureau of Land Management this month proposing to lock in long term federal coal leases to giant mining firms. And not small amounts of coal either.
You'd think Colorado's two Democratic U.S. senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, would be in the forefront to protect one of Colorado's most valuable natural resources: our water. Unfortunately, the jury is still out on whether they will be.